Of Grief and Love

fall leaves

As I shuffle through the fallen leaves that have blanketed my favorite running path, I tell myself I should pick up the pace and really get moving, but today, I just can’t. I walk quickly, and eventually find a gentle ease of stride. It feels good and so I decide to put my energy into noticing the way the Earth feels beneath my sneaker clad feet, lifting my face to meet the sun, peeking out from amongst the changing leaves.

This is my favorite kind of day. The sky is blue- as blue as a sky can be and the trees are showing off in brilliant shades of red, yellow and orange. I breathe in deeply.

I’m lucky, I know this.

To be here, walking, breathing in and out, heart beating in rhythm to the pulse of my Creator’s Universe. I’m lucky every day, but especially today. It’s October 25.

I stoop to pick up a perfectly yellow leaf, shaped just like a shining star- it’s as if last night’s sky left me a small morning offering of twinkling things; I only have to stop and notice.

How beautiful it can be, when we decide to let things go. I remember reading this somewhere out there in the infinite sea that is the internet. So profound, for once. Oh, to let things go.

The endless amount of leaves at my feet suggest that there is more to let go of than I have the strength to acknowledge. I practice it with the action of my fingers, releasing the stem of the perfect glowing star, and let the leaf flutter off into the breeze.

If only it could be this easy- this letting go.

It’s autumn, and as I’ve been learning the intricate art of Chinese medicine in my herbal studies, I understand that this is the season of the element of Metal or Air. Each element has an emotion associated with it, and it is so very fitting that the emotion attached to the autumnal season, is grief.

This has always resonated with me because I see myself as a carrier of great grief. We all are, some of us just haven’t recognized it yet. I’ve only recently begun to understand this enough to identify it and that has been bind blowing, transformational work that is hard, but necessary. Like learning how to walk again, this crippling thing that I have not been able to give a name to, has turned into a catalyst, giving me strength and permission, allowing me to peek inside my soul with eyes so clear and honest, I have often been too overwhelmed and have had to run away and hide. And then somehow, I find enough courage to try again.

Grief. What place does this have in our days, our lives, our inner workings? We do not give it the room that it deserves.

In our fast paced society, where we are always trying to fix things, make them better, faster, smarter, stronger, we have squeezed out the necessary space for the profoundly innate. We have evolved, yes, but not that much, because we are still born the same way we always have been, live for a period of time that we cannot control, and return to the Earth when we are called to go. We cannot escape the parameters of being human, and within that, is the necessity that we try so desperately to ignore because we just don’t have time or strength or mental bandwidth- of allowing the place for emotion- and the greatest of these that we consistently ignore, is grief.

We have forced grief into a singular and solitary experience, something confined to a two- week period of time, in which people leave us alone under the guise of understanding and support, but that is mourning, which has a beginning and a culturally accepted end. Grief is not that precise. We have mixed up the two somehow, and forgotten that grief’s role in our lives is to journey with all of us, serving as our eternal reminder that we loved something so much that when it had to leave, in whatever capacity, we were beyond blessed and lucky and all the rest of it, to have known whatever it was so intimately in the first place. The tears of grief that fill our souls and spill out through the windows of those things so deep and infinite, remind us that we are CAPABLE. We are capable of feeling and caring and knowing something, someone, some experience so deeply, that we have been forever changed- which is the red thread that weaves together the fabric and patches of this gloriously complicated experience of life. Grief shouts out into the atmosphere, or is designed to at least, that we are survivors of broken promises, disrupted lives and shattered hearts. The tears that should be allowed to fall whenever and however, are a running river of healing that mend us into something stronger, wiser and more complete. Grief leads us to pain, which leads us to the source. The source of who we are and why we are here and what it is, we are to become.

Grief is good. Grief is generous. Grace is necessary.

Things don’t happen TO us, they happen FOR us. I hold on to this hope on the days when I just don’t understand why it happened, why it had to change things, or who I am supposed to be now, in the aftermath. For a while, I was ashamed, thinking the healing was taking too long, that I didn’t have a right to it, as if there is a limited capacity and that it was someone else’s turn to hold the grief, and my time was up- like a game of hot potato. I have learned that the experience of grief is what binds us together in the human experience; loss tears us apart, but love sews us back up, double stitching it’s way right up the surface of our still beating heart. There is no limit or end to either. Where there is grief flowing, there is also love, and it does not aim to dam up the deluge, but works hard to allow grief the space to flow freely, trickling into the crevices that crave it.

Today is October 25. It’s been six years since my car was overtaken in Somalia and a gun was held to my head as they forced me out into the desert.

I lived.

Oh God, how I LIVE.

But there was something that also died that day.

My naivety, a few of my long held dreams, my belief in the simplicity of the world.

And so for that, today, I allow myself to grieve.

I picked up my kids early from school today, and did what I knew we all needed to do. Just the three of us and the trees.  When they weren’t looking, a few tears escaped from my weary eyes, grief flowing.  Caught in the arms of love, they were, when my five year old came over to the old piece of tree I was sitting on, and plunked down beside me, so sweetly, without saying a word, he rested his beautiful head on my shoulder.

We looked out at that water together, and breathed.

With infinite gratitude, I honor the grief as much as I honor my life.

For I now understand, I cannot have one, without the other.

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Happy Birthday, Auggie

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As we walked through the parking lot, my enormous belly leading the way, I laughed as I could barely fit through the narrow tunnels of parked cars. The sun, a brilliant ball of rising color, not high enough yet, to be yellow, but no longer low enough to just glow, she was a beauty on this morning, and I felt as though the boldness of her red was signaling to the world that something significant was about to happen.

The hour had finally come to meet our little one, his making having been, quite literally, the shock of my life. Just a few weeks after the most insane, intense and quiet literally, surreal period of my life, my world, once again, tilted on its axis just enough to cause my white knuckled hold on to the wall. Trying half successfully to keep upright, the room around me began to spin as Erik translated the words on a little stick from Swedish to English: Positive. Definite. Pregnant.

Impossible. Unbelievable. Mind Blowing. How COULD this be? I’d spent months in the desert, lost dozens of pounds, my body, so fragile, so sick. How could I be a hospitable host to another living being?

Months of sickness, exhaustion and fear ensued, sprinkled with excitement and visions of maternal bliss- I was worried. So anxious. Confused.

I’m not ready to be a mother. I won’t be a good mother. My own mother is no longer here to show me the way. How will I ever know what to do, how to do it, when to do it, why? These, among other strange nighttime thoughts, would roll around my spirit as I would lie dutifully on my left side, chewing Tums tablets like crack, waiting for dawn to come.

In the beginning, it was only survival, for him, and for me- I thought I was going to get a little break. In an airport somewhere, sick in a public bathroom, we made a pact, this little one and me- we were strong- we knew that already, and despite the doubts that we had used up all the reservoir of strength God had graced us with, we had each other, and I promised him, we would figure this thing out- and although I didn’t know it then, I certainly understand it now-

That’s Motherhood.

Together. We have no idea what we’re doing, but somehow, we will figure it out.

That was my first lesson, and he’s barely even here.

So that morning, I wasn’t surprised when the African Sun was declaring to the world that it was going to be a very good day. October 2. I had chosen it because my doctor said it was Gandhi’s birthday. I believed that to be significant, just as I knew this baby was meant to be. His timing was incomprehensible, but I chose to trust.

There was so much laughing that morning. Grampa and Auntie had traveled the oceans and  continents to welcome him with warm love. Together, we gathered in a small room, loving so much we were laughing, laughing so hard we were crying, wearing a shroud of fortunate disbelief as less than a year before, no one knew where I was, or if I was even alive, even me. The beautiful absurdity of how different things could be now, on this day, in a Nairobi hospital, because I was not only alive and well, but huge and bursting with life itself could only bring with it bittersweet tears of struggle, heartache and that mountain top feeling when you have won.

Standing outside the operating room, Erik tries to awkwardly put his arms around my enormous body. It’s our last few moments of just being two. We never dared to ask for this- we thought we had already asked for enough. Oh, but our Creator, just showing off, calling out to us, ‘You think that’s all I’ve got? Just close your eyes for a sec, and I’ll show you what I can do!’

Tears run down my face as we are ushered in, going in as two, leaving as three.

I notice a clock on the wall, the ticking is loud. It’s cold in there and the doctors and nurses are wearing garden gum boots. They are white and clean- and I chuckle. This is Africa. I love it here so much.

I am splayed on my back, connected to wires and tubes, it’s weird and I am trying not to panic. One of my doctors, a quiet man from Rwanda, is closest to me, administering medication, explaining what is happening, how it all will go. My main doctor comes in, she is bright eyed and ready- we have walked a long road together, she and I. She squeezes my hand before she begins to deliver my baby. We wish a Happy Birthday to Gandhi, and so it begins.

Erik is to my right, and I know this is hard for him. He is as overwhelmed as me, but ever strong, never changing, he holds my hand and together, we gently walk over the threshold that will change our lives so profoundly. How we see each other, how we see ourselves, all of this is forever different as we are ushered into the sacred space of parenthood.

A push and then a cry.

My tears come with such force, I feel like I’m going to choke. He’s here. He’s breathing. It appears that everything is just fine. All the fear that I had been carrying around with me, like a twin in my belly, is birthed as well, and as my sobs become overpowering, my doctor, in such a soft, unexpected way, strokes my head with his hand and just whispers these words, like little gifts, that I will take with me and carry always: ‘You’re ok, he’s ok, you are going to be a good mother….’

Erik, across the room, shouts through tears, laments of beauty and perfection, as I sob at the immensity of it all.

And then it happens. The real moment of birthing, I would realize years later, which really has nothing to do with the physical process of birthing a baby at all. It’s unexpected, I’m unprepared, no one wrote about this in all the birthing books.

As they place this tiny creature onto my chest, howling like the wind, a second birth is taking place. My arms wrap around him, wriggling and mewling, and my heart, automatically, gives it’s own push. The cavity that is beating expands tenfold, and there we are, forever changed, connected forevermore.

I’m not different because he has come from my body, but because he is mine, and I know this truth just like every mother knows in her heart, regardless of origination-

This child.

This child is mine and I am his. We belong to each other and nothing can ever change that- my arms know the truth, just like my heart.

Through sleepless nights and worry filled days. Through the moments of frustration and fleeting although, transcendent joy. Through tears, and scraped knees, hurt feelings and heartaches, growing pains and life gains, we are in this together, he and I.

You and me.

Today marks 5 years since we were both born together. Time really does trickle and rush like a raging river and a dried out stream.

But this boy, oh, this boy. I love everything about him and embrace the privilege of getting to hold him in the middle of those long nights.

Happy Birthday, my dear August. You are a kind and generous soul. Thank you for how you have changed me, for what you continue to make me.

I love every day with you.